The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
Apply the blacksmith's homely principle when you are speaking. If you feel deeply about your subject you
will be able to think of little else. Concentration is a process of distraction from less important matters. It is
too late to think about the cut of your coat when once you are upon the platform, so centre your interest on
what you are about to say--fill your mind with your speech-material and, like the infilling water in the glass, it
will drive out your unsubstantial fears.
Self-consciousness is undue consciousness of self, and, for the purpose of delivery, self is secondary to your
subject, not only in the opinion of the audience, but, if you are wise, in your own. To hold any other view is to
regard yourself as an exhibit instead of as a messenger with a message worth delivering. Do you remember
Elbert Hubbard's tremendous little tract, "A Message to Garcia"? The youth subordinated himself to the
message he bore. So must you, by all the determination you can muster. It is sheer egotism to fill your mind
with thoughts of self when a greater thing is there--TRUTH. Say this to yourself sternly, and shame your
self-consciousness into quiescence. If the theater caught fire you could rush to the stage and shout directions
to the audience without any self-consciousness, for the importance of what you were saying would drive all
fear-thoughts out of your mind.
Far worse than self-consciousness through fear of doing poorly is self-consciousness through assumption of
doing well. The first sign of greatness is when a man does not attempt to look and act great. Before you can
call yourself a man at all, Kipling assures us, you must "not look too good nor talk too wise."
Nothing advertises itself so thoroughly as conceit. One may be so full of self as to be empty. Voltaire said,
"We must conceal self-love." But that can not be done. You know this to be true, for you have recognized
overweening self-love in others. If you have it, others are seeing it in you. There are things in this world
bigger than self, and in working for them self will be forgotten, or--what is better--remembered only so as to
help us win toward higher things.
Have Something to Say
The trouble with many speakers is that they go before an audience with their minds a blank. It is no wonder
that nature, abhorring a vacuum, fills them with the nearest thing handy, which generally happens to be, "I
wonder if I am doing this right! How does my hair look? I know I shall fail." Their prophetic souls are sure to
It is not enough to be absorbed by your subject--to acquire self-confidence you must have something in which
to be confident. If you go before an audience without any preparation, or previous knowledge of your subject,
you ought to be self-conscious--you ought to be ashamed to steal the time of your audience. Prepare yourself.
Know what you are going to talk about, and, in general, how you are going to say it. Have the first few
sentences worked out completely so that you may not be troubled in the beginning to find words. Know your
subject better than your hearers know it, and you have nothing to fear.
After Preparing for Success, Expect It
Let your bearing be modestly confident, but most of all be modestly confident within. Over-confidence is bad,
but to tolerate premonitions of failure is worse, for a bold man may win attention by his very bearing, while a
rabbit-hearted coward invites disaster.
Humility is not the personal discount that we must offer in the presence of others--against this old
interpretation there has been a most healthy modern reaction. True humility any man who thoroughly knows
himself must feel; but it is not a humility that assumes a worm-like meekness; it is rather a strong, vibrant
prayer for greater power for service--a prayer that Uriah Heep could never have uttered.
Washington Irving once introduced Charles Dickens at a dinner given in the latter's honor. In the middle of his